Sunderland’s FA Cup defeat at Arsenal means it’s just the annual battle for survival now for the remainder of the season.
There were a lot of similarities to the league defeat at the Emirates back in December; the exact same scoreline, same Arsenal scorers, with Sunderland being in the tie for most of the game until a couple of late Gunners goals took them through to the next round.
Arsenal haven’t lost a FA Cup tie for nearly three years now so it’s no disgrace to go out at the Emirates, but when the fourth round ties are played at the end of this month, I’ll wish we were a part of it all, rather than having a free weekend.
The Gunners were the better team and deserved to win, but it might have been different had Steven Fletcher’s header gone in rather than hitting the bar, with the game in the balance at 1-1.
It was as good a move as Sunderland produced all game, with Yann M’Vila feeding DeAndre Yedlin, who did brilliantly in getting to the by-line and picking out Fletcher, who was so unlucky to see his header crash against the woodwork.
Exciting prospect Jordan Pickford certainly didn’t let anybody down on his debut and couldn’t be faulted for any of the goals.
It will be fascinating to see how he develops and whether he has a part to play in the crucial second half of the season.
The other player who did himself no harm was Jeremain Lens, who hasn’t figured much under Sam Allardyce, but on Saturday his performance was more like an £8million signing and his well-taken goal will give the Sunderland boss food for thought.
Going out at the first hurdle in the cup is always a disappointment, even if it would have been a major shock to get past Arsenal, so all the focus and every scrap of energy now has to be channelled into the Premier League games to make sure the relegation battle is a successful one.